Microbiota Decussata: Shrubby, Low-Growing Ground Cover

Ed Wike
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Siberian Cypress Overview

Siberian Cypress is also known as deciduous groundcover. It is most often used in rock gardens and as a low-growing, evergreen groundcover. It is also a good choice for containers.

The foliage of this ornamental shrub is soft, fine, and light green, growing in small overlapping layers. In the late fall it will turn a brilliant gold-yellow.

It is an excellent choice for borders and looks its best in well-drained, acidic soil. While it prefers full sun it will also grow well in areas that have partial shade for most of the day.

All About Russian Cypress

Microbiota Decussata

If you see this ground cover growing on your property or that of a neighbor, it’s possible that it’s Russian Cypress. More common in mild climates, Microbiota decussata, is an evergreen olive-green shrub with one-inch, round, fleshy leaves. Short, thin twigs bear umbels of tiny, fragrant, white flowers on their ends in late spring and early summer.

If you want to plant it, Russian Cypress’s maintenance is minimal. Plant it in well-drained soil and partial shade. You’ll need to water it once or twice a month and it can withstand some drought. The main issue is it’s growth may outstrip its root mass and it may blow over with high winds.

Once you’re able to identify Russian Cypress, you can decide if it fits with your landscape.

Siberian Cypress Plant Care

The Siberian cypress plant (Microbiota decussata) is a creeping shrub/ ground cover that is related to the yellow jasmine and hydrangea plants, but unlike its cousins, it has the unique ability to move on its own. It literally crawls on its own roots and can slowly edge out any competitor plants in the area. It is an adaptable plant that can be used in a variety of landscaping projects.

This plant is relatively easy to grow, and it has become very popular with the gardening community. It thrives in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 through 10, and it adheres to the basic care that must be provided to any plant, including soil maintenance and light periods. If you own a greenhouse or are looking to bring a piece of nature indoors, this is a great plant to grow.

So, how do I prepare the soil for my Microbiota decussata?

Light

Microbiota decussata is a tough outdoor ground cover that is happy in full sun exposure. It tolerates most soil conditions, from moist to moderately dry, so long as the ground is well-drained and not overly sandy. It is best to avoid heavy clay soils that hold too much water.

Incorporate compost into the top layer of soil to improve its drainage; layering a few inches of compost on top of the ground cover in the fall help to prevent the spread of winter damage.

Maintain an adequate amount of air circulation by regularly brushing the ground around it. Prune back areas of ground that grow too closely together, and always remove any yellowing or dead leaves. This low-maintenance shrub will grow well in a variety of landscapes and garden styles and can be used to control erosion from steep inclines, add privacy to a fence, or to keep delicate plants from being trampled on in between established beds.

Water

Research shows that Microbiota Decussata, also called Arizona Cypress, requires little or no supplemental watering.

This is possible because it can tolerate the seasonal lack of moisture. It weathers the dry periods by shutting down its water uptake system. This allows it to last through long periods of drought with little or no water.

In fact, this plant can survive for a while on the humidity in the air alone. This makes it ideal for areas that have low humidity.

In climates with rain, you can still prevent over watering. Look for moist, but dry soil to indicate when an extra drink is needed.

Soil

Requirements: An Ideal Soil Mix for Microbiota Decussata

The shrub microbe that is Microbiota decussata, also known as the star creeper, has become a popular houseplant for area rugs and floor mats. You can find the plant at large, reputable nurseries and at garden centers that sell landscape plants (like perennials).

If you’re thinking about growing M. decussata as a low-traffic ground cover, you first need to consider the soil requirements of your native plants. For many reasons, most nurseries use an acceptable, but less than ideal, mix when they ship plants. Be ready to replace your shrub's soil mix, if you don’t like the results. Your goal is to create a soil mix that is rich in organic topsoil and compost.

If you don’t have any homegrown compost available, you might want to buy a bag from the nursery or garden center. You can mix the soil according to the following suggestions:

A healthy M. decussata shrub needs a soilless mix that has the following top ingredients:

Five parts topsoil.

One part peat moss.

One part sand (dried).

Take the recommended amount of soil and mix it in with each of your new shrubs soil before you plant them.

Fertilizer

For seedlings, fertilizing every three weeks is most effective. Leave the fertilizer package in with the plants to ensure that each plant receives the correct amount. The most popular fertilizer is an organic product with a balanced N-P-K ratio.

Propagation

Microbiota decussata, also known as evergreen microphyll ground cover, has little clover-like flowers, true leaves, and large compound leaves that are lobed and divided into fine tendrils.

Foliage is narrow to wide, green, and shiny. Its most distinguishing characteristic are the broad compound leaves, which are up to thirty or forty times wider than they are long. Each leaf looks like a smaller version of a eucalyptus tree. Microbiota decussata has two kinds of leaves: true leaves and compound leaves. True leaves are tiny and resemble miniature clovers and quilted together beside a leaf stem from the compound leaves.

Microbiota decussata's genus name is given because of its unusual leaf arrangement and its species name is also borrowed from the arrangement of its leaves. Microbiota decussata was named after the genus of its leaves, Decussate.

Microbiota decussata was first described in 1843, to botanists in Europe. Those describing the plant found it growing naturally in Australia.

Microbiota decussata must be grown in USDA zones nine to eleven. It may be grown as a container plant indoors in colder climates. If it must be grown in a location colder than zone nine, it may become inoperable or to donate to a greenhouse.

Pruning

The native range of Microbiota decussata covers a large portion of the eastern half of the United States. It grows in full sun, and seems to prefer sandy soil, but will tolerate light, rocky, or clay soil. It is a compact, slow-growing, low-maintenance plant that is generally disease and pest resistant.

Microbiota decussata spreads by seeds, and by its creeping horizontal stems that roots at nodes. It is best to remove these creeping stems, or at least the nodes, to preserve the compact nature of the plant. If allowed to grow vertically, it can reach heights of 3 feet tall.

Of course, in the United States, Microbiota decussata is grown as an ornamental plant. As such, it has many floral uses. The flowers are not that large, but the colors are beautiful and they are very attractive to pollinators. Beekeepers often plant Microbiota decussata to ensure access to a constant supply of pollen throughout the late winter and early spring months.

Problems

Do you have an area in your yard you'd like to cover with a low-growing, non-invasive ground cover, but ever since you ripped out the lawn, you don’t know what to do? Are you frustrated by attempts to grow heavy, invasive ground cover that seem to take over instead of covering the space? Are you tired of having to fight weeds and invasives? Well there is a remarkably effective and inexpensive ground cover that has these problems licked, and the best part is you can order it without ever stepping out your door.

Make way for Microbiota decussata (also called Groundsel Bush). This plant is originally from Australia where it provided good, low-growing ground cover for the outback. It’s been used in other parts of the world since the 1920s, primarily in areas of South America and Africa It has similar properties and benefits to many of the ground covers used in temperate climates like English Ivy, Creeping Jenny, and various types of native forbs that grow in lawns.

You may wonder, “What’s the big deal?” There are a few advantages to this plant that make it worth considering.

Growing Problems

There is plenty of easy ground cover that grows quickly. Plants like silver mound/Mentha Daisey (Mentha requienii) and clover (Trifolium repens) can be interesting if you are looking to plant something slowly but they can be a challenge to get established. They may be the right choice if your goal is to cover an area quickly but if you want them to grow out instead of spreading out, you may want to look into other options.

Microbiota decussata is a medium growing perennial ground cover that will spread out and will grow to fill in the area that you want it too, as opposed to spreading out. In general, low growing ground covers are much easier to deal with. When they get too long, you can pull them out and divide them. This not only makes your cover last longer but it is much less work for you.

Pests

It helps prevent many diseases in Nandina if you remove its flower spikes. Most pests and diseases that affect Nandina are brought in with new plant material. To guard against pests and disease, keep the area surrounding your Nandina free of debris, fallen leaves, and weeds. You can also spray insecticidal soap directly on Nandina foliage. This natural product kills many bugs but it poses no danger to people or pets.

The best defense against lots of bugs around your Nandina is a balanced, slow-release fertilizer with Bat Guano. These fertilizer materials contain a variety of minerals that supply food for the microorganisms in the soil. The microorganisms in the soil consume the food and release natural antibiotics and other natural chemicals that kill and deter pests and diseases. The result is a healthy, disease-free garden environment.

Diseases

The Microbiota decussata shrub with its impressive bouquet of blooms resembling dandelion flowers are an attractive addition to any landscape.

This old-fashioned flower that grows well in almost any type of soil is also helpful in reducing the population of outdoor pests.

While valuable in aesthetics, in some cases, the flowers can also create an allergy-producing allergen in susceptible individuals.

The most common symptoms of a Microbiota decussata allergy are sneezing, nasal itching, rhinitis, and conjunctivitis.

Frequently Asked Questions

Since you all love your low-growing groundcover so much, I thought I’d share some of the most frequently asked questions I get when I discuss Microbiota Decussata in my workshops. Each is followed by a helpful response that you can use at home.

Microbiota is a groundcover. What size pot can I use, and can I use one larger or two smaller pots? Most people want the straight answer and don’t want to hear about compost, but here is the big, curly answer.

“It depends." It depends on the size of the plant, the type of container and if the soil has been amended or needs to be amended.

“If it’s a very large plant or two small plants, you may use a container that is the same size as your garden bed.” Microbiota are like fig trees: the larger the plant, the larger the pot needs to be.